We had just sung the Doxology, concluding our evening family worship. The kids were scurrying from my lap to their beds. But once I began to stand – pain! Suspended at a 45-degree angle, I couldn’t move and it only went downhill from there.
The real low-point, equal part humiliating and excruciating, was having to crawl across the living-room floor to our bedroom. It was a longer trip than usual, though it afforded me the opportunity to thank God for the regularity with which my wife cleans the floor. But then came the moment when I actually had to pull myself into bed. For the record, I neither cried nor cursed. But I am glad that that particular moment was not videoed.
That’s were I spent the following two days – flat on my back. Until those wonderful muscle-relaxers, which the Lord have given us richly to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17), allowed me to stand and shuffle a bit. Turns out I have a herniated disc at the L5. It was obvious on the MRI, the disc that’s black and squished flat like an overcooked hamburger – yeah, that’s not normal. Fortunately, it’s minor and will not require surgery.
The cause is anyone’s guess. Maybe it was when I was rear-ended three years ago. Or maybe it was high school football – after all, I was the skinny receiver, linebacker fodder over the middle. But what’s most likely is all those days in seminary, and afterward, where I sat 18 or even 20 hours studying and working. Whatever the original cause, in the Father’s sovereign and sanctifying discipline (Heb 12:5-10; 2 Cor 4:17-18; Rom 8:28-30), family worship put me flat on my back.
What do you think about when you’re flat on your back and can’t do anything? Here are a few of the things that occurred to me while staring at our ceiling – given in no particular order:
- We’re very fragile. It’s frankly embarrassing that I’ve got no great story to go with this injury – no children were saved from a burning wreckage or anything worthy of even a blog post. I just stood up. It’s a good reminder that we’re but dust (Ps 103:14) and will one day return to it forever (Ps 90:13). A mist, that’s evaporating even now (Jas 4:14). Pride grows in the most hidden places, like taking your most basic physical abilities for granted. So it’s only grace when the Lord humbles you and reminds you that you’re sustained only by the word of Christ’s power (Heb 1:3). I need more wisdom to number my days and redeem whatever time and strength He sees fit to grant (Ps 90:12; Eph 5:16).
- Wives are good (Gen 2:18). When I hurt my back, my wife was already caring for 3 kids under 4 yrs who were sick. Tirelessly, she’s served with care and forethought, without complaint or grumbling, knowing that all of this was from the Lord and seeking Him in prayer. Make no mistake, an ezer (from , “helper” or “support”; cf. Gen 2:18, 20) is no doormat or weakling – in fact, Moses uses ezer to refer to the Lord Himself (Exod 18:4, “The God of my father was my help”). My wife is a strong support and in her I’ve found a good thing. You can’t beat a hardworking and pretty Calvinist! She’s embodied “favor from the LORD” (Prov 18:22).
- I’m unnecessary. Finding identity in what I’m able to do, or what others expect me to do is not so good – it’s quite idolatrous, actually. While staring at the ceiling, I’ve thought about all the “necessary” things that aren’t getting done. In one sense, that’s not so bad. It’s good to remember that I’m entirely dispensable and unnecessary. M’Cheyne once wrote to an ill pastor, reminding him of the same truth:
Our God can work through means or above them. He then puts the treasure into earthen vessels, often allows the vessels to be chipped and broken, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us [2 Cor 4:7]… I have often been brought very low, but it has been always good for me. In this way God educates His ministers, both for His temple below, and for being pillars in the temple above”
- It’s good to be nothing. Related to that thought, it’s therefore quite pointless to run yourself into the ground (or flat on your back, as the case may be), because you believe you’re actually needed. You’re not.Unless the Lord builds, all human efforts are futile (Ps 127:1-2). Being unable to drive, or to sit, or even to focus much because of the pain (and those blessed med’s alleviating it), has had it’s sanctifying purpose – it’s sweet to be nothing.
May all Thy people know how little, mean, and vile I am, that they may see I am nothing,
less than nothing,
to be accounted nothing,
that so they may pray for me aright,
and have not the least dependence upon me.
It is sweet to be nothing and have nothing, and to be fed with crumbs from Thy hands.
Blessed by Thy Name for anything that life brings (“Reproofs,” in Valley of Vision).
- Prayer is hard work. You’d think that with all this time on your hands, that the prayers would just flow! But prayer is still a striving, still a struggle, and still work (cf. Rom 15:30; Col 2:1; 4:12; etc.). Self-sufficiency dies hard. Eric Alexander is quite right:
In my own experience, prayer is actually the hardest kind of work I have ever had to do (Prayer: A Biblical Perspective, p. 5)
There are a few more thoughts, but perhaps I’ll leave them for another post. When all is said, at least I have one more reason to encourage family worship. It may just put you flat on your back and that’s not such a bad thing.